Many people have preconceived ideas of what an addict looks like and how they act. They are often depicted as skinny and stringy-haired, with ratty clothes and no job. This is no longer, and really never was, an accurate portrayal of an addict. Movies, TV, music and even the news perpetuate the notion that an addict is easily recognized by these tell-tale attributes. In fact, there is no typical description of an addict in today’s culture. They are both men and women, of all races, ethnicities, religions, age groups, incomes and backgrounds. It is shocking to some to learn that those suffering with addiction can be high-functioning addicts. They hide their addictions from the world, and those closest to them, behind the facade of a “normal” life.
High-functioning addicts actively work to preserve their self-image and their lifestyle. They maintain successful employment and participate actively in their families and communities. Since it is apparent the old way of thinking about addicts no longer applies, how can we identify and help high-functioning addicts?
Spotting a High-Functioning Addict
Most high-functioning addicts will go to any length to keep their jobs, maintain a happy family life and preserve their positions among friends and in their communities, despite their addiction. As the addiction escalates and consequences become unavoidable, we can detect cracks in their armor. Unfortunately, with high-functioning addicts, by the time others discover the illness it is often too late. Fortunately, there are signs you can watch for to spot a high-functioning addict in your life.
- They Make Excuses: Someone who is secretly abusing drugs and alcohol will make up excuses for their substance use disorder. They will tell you that all managers at their career level drink or take pain pills. Expect to hear them justify their substance use as a reward for all the hard work they put in. If you confront them, they will accuse you of not understanding the stress that their job causes. By putting you on the defensive, they hope you will leave them alone.
- They Drink or Use More Than Intended: You will notice that they never stop with just one drink or just one pill, though they may say that they will. And, this happens almost every time they have a drink or use a drug. They simply can not control their usage.
- Their Friends and Acquaintances Also Use: When a person is suffering from an addiction, it is more comfortable for them to surround themselves with others who drink or use as they do. If their friends are binge drinking right alongside them, or if their group of friends all use similar drugs, it’s a good sign that they may have a problem. Does the person drag their feet about socializing outside of their group of friends? If it’s not a social occasion that includes alcohol or drugs, they likely won’t want to go.
- They Appear Ill in the Morning: A high-functioning addict will awake regularly to headaches, nausea and lethargy, or appear foggy-headed. This may be a sign of alcohol or drug hangovers and withdrawal. They often offer excuses such as “not being a morning person” or being stressed and having trouble sleeping, but if occurring very often this could be a symptom of a much larger problem.
- They are No Longer Interested in Their Hobbies: The person you care about may stop showing any interest in their former hobbies or passions. High-functioning addicts use all their energy to maintain the facade with the necessary components such as keeping their jobs, honoring family obligations and maintaining relationships the best they can. There is no extra time or energy to spend on hobbies. And they simply don’t care about them anymore.
High-Functioning Addicts & The Opiate Epidemic
About 80 percent of the world’s opiate addicts come from the United States. In recent years, the number of addictions that began with a valid prescription have skyrocketed. Many high-functioning addicts have established themselves with family physicians who think nothing of prescribing something for pain when a patient complains of an injury or an accident. When someone has undergone a surgery, had a dental procedure, suffered a car accident or is experiencing chronic pain, it is often a doctor’s first response to assign pain relieving opiates. Sadly, for many, that can quickly turn into an addiction that becomes tougher and tougher to satisfy. Doctor shopping, faking injuries and even resorting to illicit street drugs are all potential steps in the journey when someone has developed an addiction to pain medication.
Getting help if you suspect your loved one is a high-functioning addict is like leading a horse to water. Although you can take them to the water, you can’t make them drink. The decision to get help must be the addicts, and theirs alone. Approaching your loved one when they are remorseful for bad behavior is the best tactic. Most are not receptive when in the midst of using, or when experiencing painful hangovers or withdrawals. Often, people choose to stage an intervention, guided by a professional, to ask them to seek help.
If someone you love is suffering, don’t wait to offer help. Educating yourself on alcoholism and addiction is the first step. Then, be armed with information regarding treatment options. Contact your local drug addiction treatment center today for help.